Should we encourage our children to take risks

Matthew Slavin,
National Kinship Care Supervisor

We often receive calls from carers worried about their children’s risk-taking behaviour. Whether that’s concerns about mixing with the wrong crowd or their online activity, there’s always the same want to protect and nurture our young ones. It’s that mother-bear instinct to fight off danger and keep our young safe.

I guess we should start by asking, ‘What is risk?’ For a parent or carer, risk could be their young toddler mouthing on dangerous objects or their teenager wanting to walk home in the dark after visiting friends. Essentially, risk is the likelihood that an experience could end in harm, loss or danger. And of course there are different types and degrees of risk – from the risk of criminality when exposed to drug-taking, to the risk of heart-ache after a first relationship.

So, if taking risks involves putting our children and teens in the way of harm, loss or danger, why would we encourage them to actively take risks? Well, there are many that say that taking risks can be beneficial and an essential part of growth. Another important question is, ‘Can our children grow without taking risks?’

What would your thoughts be if you were presented with the following situations? Perhaps, you have faced them?

    • Would you let your 9-year-old get the newspaper for you from the local shops on a mid-winter Saturday morning?


    • Would you let your 12-year-old granddaughter go to the cinema with one other friend?


    • Would you let your 15-year-old go to a gig in another city, where alcohol will be available and they will be returning late?

Risk is often thought of in terms of danger, loss, threat, damage or injury. But as well as potentially negative characteristics, risk-taking can have positive benefits for individuals.

So, if sending a child into a place of almost certain, unavoidable risk is at the far end of a spectrum, what does the other end look like? What about positive risk taking?

Positive risk taking is the other end of the spectrum. It’s about weighing up the potential benefits and harms of a decision. And while we can never know all the risks, ‘positive risk taking’, is about carefully thinking out what might happen and making a decision based on the potential good that may arise. The above situations could lead to harm and danger, but with careful planning they might also be opportunities for growth from which to learn lessons of independence, forward-thinking, self-control, and mutual trust.

Much of life involves taking risks and it is impossible ever to fully eliminate risk. It is, however, possible to minimise and prepare for risk. But what about the times when you’re stuck between the two – not knowing whether a choice will lead to a positive or negative result?

At ParentLine and the National Kinship Care Helpline, no issue is too big or too small to talk about. If you want to talk about how to promote positive risk-taking, or talk over risk-taking behaviour you’re concerned about, please do give us a call.

Call: 08000 28 22 33

Webchat at: